In 2015, a nonprofit organization called “Strikes for Kids” invited more than 100 boys and girls to a charity event at a bowling alley near Las Vegas.
The star attraction was NFL players. More than 25 were scheduled to bowl with the kids and families — all to help support youth development and education.
But there was one big problem with it: The bowling alley was part of a casino.
So the NFL forced the event to relocate, saying the league’s gambling policy forbids players from making promotional appearances at casinos.
And now the charity is fighting back.
After filing suit against the league last year, on Thursday the charity asked a federal judge to force NFL commissioner Roger Goodell to testify about how he interprets his gambling policy.
“Mr. Goodell alone is charged with interpretation and enforcement of the gambling policy that served as the basis for relocating the charity event,” said the request filed Thursday in federal court in Dallas.
NFL’s gambling policy appears consistently inconsistent
The request marks the latest strange legal entanglement the league finds itself in over its gambling policy. Even after the league recently approved the relocation of the Oakland Raiders to the casino capital of Las Vegas, this case also shows NFL is still heavily invested in the notion that casinos are bad places for players and children alike.
In this case, the NFL’s position against casinos also stands out because the charity bowling event moved from a large bowling alley at the Sunset Station casino to the smaller Brooklyn Bowl, which is part of the LINQ casino promenade but not inside the casino itself.
One casino relationship was OK, according to the league. One was not.
So what’s the difference, according to the league’s gambling policy?
The Brooklyn Bowl on the Las Vegas strip is not inside
The Brooklyn Bowl on the Las Vegas strip is not inside a casino, but it shares a promenade with one. Apparently that nuance is important to the NFL. (Photo: Dan MacMedan, USA TODAY)
It depends. Strikes for Kids is seeking damages and has accused the league of fraud, saying an NFL lawyer misled the group and caused the charity to lose revenue. The event moved from a 72-lane bowling alley to one with only 16 lanes available by the Las Vegas Strip.
“The NFL lawyer stated that the charity event needed to be moved, or no NFL player would be permitted to participate,” the charity said in court filing June 6. “Not only were these statements not true but were made with reckless disregard for the truth because … the NFL approved a nearly identical venue for the charity event.”
The NFL disagrees and is fighting this case and a similar case brought by two Dallas law firms: Lynn Pinker Cox & Hurst LLP and the Pettit Law Firm. The two firms also are pursuing a separate suit against the NFL on behalf of a company affiliated with former Dallas Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo.
In that case, they say the NFL forced the cancellation of a fantasy football event in Las Vegas in 2015 because the event violated the same policy involving promotional appearances at casinos. However, the Romo event was not to take place inside a casino but rather in a convention property that was next to the Venetian casino and owned by the Las Vegas Sands casino company.
The league argued it had authority under its collective bargaining agreement with players to enforce its gambling policy in the Romo case. A judge agreed last year and threw the case out, but the plaintiffs appealed in Texas court. That case is still pending.
In the bowling alley imbroglio, the NFL noted that the Palazzo casino also was sponsoring the event, which was against league policy.
“After speaking with the NFL lawyer, plaintiff dropped the casino sponsor and voluntarily moved its event to another venue called the Brooklyn Bowl, which plaintiff represented did not have any affiliation with a casino,” attorneys for the NFL stated in court documents last month. “The event then proceeded in the new venue with the participation of several NFL players and without any objection from the NFL.”
This smaller bowling alley in Las Vegas wasn't the
This smaller bowling alley in Las Vegas wasn't the charity's first choice, but in the NFL's eyes, it was acceptable. It is located in a casino promenade. (Photo: Dan MacMedan, USA TODAY)
The NFL attorneys noted that the NFL Foundation donated $5,000 to the charity to help support the event and was thanked for it by the charity’s executive director.
The charity’s attorneys described this as “hush money.” And now they want to take Goodell’s testimony about the gambling policy in a deposition. U.S. Magistrate Judge Renee Toliver denied this request last month on the basis that it was not relevant or proportional to the needs of the case. But the charity filed objections to her ruling last week and is trying again with a different judge.
“When you look at the two (bowling alleys), there does not seem to be a difference,” plaintiff attorney Julie Pettit told Toliver in a hearing May 25. “And there's only one person (Goodell) that can tell us what's the difference between the non-approved venue and the approved venue. And he's this Oz behind the curtain, this person that the NFL will not allow us to talk to. And everyone points their finger at him, saying he's the only one that can make that determination.”
In March, Goodell told reporters that the league doesn’t envision changing its policies just because the Raiders are moving to Las Vegas by 2020. He also said the league retains the right to make changes if it thinks they are necessary.
Under the same gambling policy, NFL teams are allowed to accept limited advertising from casinos. In Las Vegas, the Raiders’ new NFL stadium will be owned by a landlord whose governing board includes executives from the MGM and Caesars casino companies.